Tag Archives: sin

Can Someone Be Forgiven if They Commit the Same Sin Again After Confessing and Repenting it?

No one who asks God for forgiveness can be confident that they won’t commit the same sin again. In fact, our natures are so contaminated by sin that we often do. When Peter asked Jesus whether we are obligated to forgive a person who sins against us seven times (Peter’s “seven times” more than doubled the rabbinic prescription), Jesus said: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22 NKJV).

Jesus made it clear that God’s primary concern is not mere outward behavior, but the condition of the heart Matthew 23:25-26; Mark 7:5-9; Luke 11:42-44; Luke 11:42-44. Therefore the sincerity of the confession is what counts.

Unfortunately, we can be sincere in our repentance and confession and still fall into sin again. Because believers continue to be influenced by the “flesh”—the fallen aspect of their personalities—in this world they are incapable of perfect sincerity. At times they are more vulnerable to temptation than at other times. With the passage of time, the strong awareness of evil and the ugliness of sin that brought us to repentence often fades.

Sincere confession of sin is a heartfelt acknowledgment that our sin is wrong, that we don’t want to continue in it, and that we are ready to exert ourselves—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—to resist it. God doesn’t expect perfection, because none of us are capable of achieving it, but He does expect sincerity.

Sin is highly addictive, and when we’re not on our guard we can easily succumb to the false sense of relief we experience when we surrender to our compulsions. We need to be aware of sin’s addictive nature. Like someone who is attempting to quit smoking or drinking, the worst thing we can do is to give up on our desire to change or believe we can never change, even though we relapse in moments of weakness.

As we experience increasing freedom from sin, we will experience an increasing awareness of evil and understand more deeply how sin carries its own penalty. Each time genuine believers relapse into sin, they will experience more conviction and a more painful awareness of sin’s destructiveness. Each time they repent and confess their sins, they will be purer, stronger, and less likely to relapse.

Of course, some sins are so serious that even sincere repentance can’t erase their earthly consequences. Sins like murder and adultery can be forgiven by God in the ultimate sense and by fellow Christians in the sense of hoping for a sinner’s restoration, but the damage such sins inflict usually cannot be undone in this life, and consequences such as imprisonment or divorce may be unavoidable.

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Addictions and Other Destructive Behaviors: Sin or Disease?

Destructive behavior includes elements of both sin and “disease.” Some people are especially susceptible to particular kinds of destructive behavior. For example, men who abuse women are often reared in families where women were abused. Imbued with contempt for women, they are predisposed to use women as scapegoats for frustration. There is clearly a sense in which this predisposition (or heightened temptation) to debase and abuse women can be called a “sickness,” since it was largely instilled by external influences.

Does this mean that an abuser’s “sickness”—the fact that he has been damaged by sin and is consequently more prone to abuse women than men who haven’t been so damaged—justifies his abusive behavior? Absolutely not! His “sickness” helps us understand his behavior, but doesn’t excuse it. He isn’t merely a victim of outside circumstances, like someone with meningitis or malaria. In spite of the tendencies he inherited, an element of conscious, willful sin is present in every abusive act. Regardless of his background, he is capable of resisting his impulses. No one is so isolated from the laws of society and the influence of conscience that they are completely unaware of the wrongfulness of spouse abuse. Our legal system acknowledges this with the principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Abusers are accountable to society for any violation of laws against spouse abuse. Further, to the extent that an abuser knows his behavior is wrong, he is responsible before God to change.

Some people object to making a distinction between sick internal impulses and sinful actions (willful sin). They say that the impulses and emotions of the abuser are just as sinful as his decision to abuse.

It is true that the evil emotions and impulses of an abuser are not merely sick. They are the results both of original and personal sin and are repulsive and evil in themselves. However, they aren’t sinful in the same sense and to the same degree as a conscious personal decision to act sinfully. (See the ATQ article, Are Christians Held Responsible for Unpremeditated and Unconscious Sins?)

If we condemn sick predispositions as much as sinful decisions and actions, we leave no room for compassion.

Jesus had compassion on sinners (Matthew 9:12-13). He stressed the importance of having compassion on the failures of others:

You wicked servant, he said, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:32-33)

The reason Jesus had compassion was due to His awareness that while people are sinners, they are not entirely given over to premeditated evil. There is a sense in which they are also sin’s victims.

And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. (Mt. 10:35-36)

If we are to be like our Master, we must be able to have compassion upon lost, sinful people, at the same time as we hold them responsible for their premeditated sin.

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Why Don’t Christians Stop Sinning Completely?

The Bible stresses both the importance of confessing ( James 5:16 ) and forsaking sin ( Ezekiel 18:31 ; Matthew 5:29 ; Luke 14:27 ; Romans 13:12 ; Ephesians 4:22 ). But just because Christians should confess and forsake their sins doesn’t mean that they are capable of achieving sinless perfection.

Certainly some sins are the outward and obvious kind that can be clearly confessed, forsaken, and avoided. No genuine Christian could commit an obvious, outward sin like adultery, murder, or theft without realizing it is wrong. In fact, it would be hard for a genuine Christian to commit such a clearly defined, obvious sin without a major struggle of conscience.

But not all of our sins are so outward and obvious or under our conscious control. There is another type of sin so deeply rooted in our depraved human nature that it seems to have its own life within us like a parasite or an alien being with a destructive craving to live independent of God.1 This kind of sin is present in all of us — not just in obvious sinners, like thieves, adulterers, and murderers. Regarding this kind of sin, the apostle John wrote:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. . . . If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 NKJV)

The apostle Paul described his struggle with this kind of sin in Romans 7:15-25:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. (Romans 7:14-19 NKJV)

This kind of inner sin is often carried out unconsciously and in ignorance, but it eventually leads to death ( Romans 8:6,13 ) It appears in forms that are often subtle — like greed, pride, sloth, indifference to others, and lust. This inner sin is often so much a part of us that we recognize it only with difficulty, although others around us may see it clearly. Like an addictive poison, it has become so much a part of us — infecting every aspect of our personality and identity — that in this life it is impossible for us to be instantly freed from it. To be instantly purified of its influence would be more than we could bear.2

When we have faith in Christ we are instantly freed from the eternal penalty of our sin, but we can not be freed of the burden of inner sin itself except through a process — the process of sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit ( 1 Corinthians 6:11 ; 2 Corinthians 3:18 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ; 1 Peter 1:2 ) Sanctification creates a “new man” within us in the image of Christ, a new “nature” that is drawn to life and immortality instead of death and corruption. Unlike the instantaneous event of justification, the process of sanctification continues through our entire life on earth, reaching completion only in heaven ( 1 John 3:2,3 ).

See the ATQ article Are Christians Held Responsible for Unpremeditated and Unconscious Sins?

  1. This is implied by numerous passages in Scripture that describe the immense gap between sinful humanity and the Holy God. ( Exodus 33:20-23 ; Isaiah 6:5 ; John 1:18 ; 1 Timothy 6:16 ). Back To Article
  2. The biblical name for this instantaneous act of forgiveness is justification ( Romans 3:21-28 ; Romans 5:8, 9 ; Philippians 3:8, 9 ; Titus 3:4-7 ). Back To Article
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Does God Hold Christians Responsible for Unpremeditated and Unconscious Sins?

For a believer, unconscious sins are a serious concern, but they shouldn’t be a cause for fear of abandonment or judgment by God. Because we are all sinners by nature, born into a fallen world, we are all guilty of unintentional sin. We would be in a hopeless situation, however, if God required us to be aware of every specific sin in our life and then confess it in order to maintain our fellowship with Him. This would be impossible for us in our limited, fallen state.

Old Testament law indicates that God looks upon unconscious sin differently from conscious sin. The law prescribed sacrifices for sins done in ignorance or weakness and without willful intent ( Leviticus 4:2-3, 13-14 ). However, Old Testament law provided no sacrifice for conscious sin:

Anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken His commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him (Numbers 15:30-31 NIV).

The New Testament also distinguishes clearly between willful and unconscious sin:

That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:47-48 NIV).

If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin (John 15:22 NIV).

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief (1 Timothy 1:13 NIV).

Although the Bible distinguishes between conscious and unconscious sin, when we first put our faith in Jesus Christ, He declared us “justified.” He forgave us in a legal and judicial sense. He did this once and for all, forgiving us of any and all sins: past, present, and future; conscious and unconscious.

On the basis of this legal standing, God has accepted us once and for all into His eternal family ( Romans 5:1 ). Now, even when we sin (either consciously or unconsciously) we are in a new relationship to Him. No longer must we fear God’s condemnation and judgment. Christ has enabled us to be God’s sons and daughters, no longer facing damnation because of sin. However, although we need no longer fear judgment because of sin, sin still interferes with our relationship with God and other people, and sometimes makes it necessary for Him to discipline us as a firm but loving Father.

We shouldn’t worry about our unconscious sin. Although it has destructive effects in our lives, there is so much sin dwelling within us that we can’t expect to be instantly delivered from its influence. We need to be humbled, however, by the fact that we sin in many ways that we don’t detect, and be willing to confess and renounce any sin that the Holy Spirit brings into the light of our awareness. Our Father in heaven is ready to remedy the loss of communication and personal separation that occurs when we resist Him and go our own way ( 1 John 1:7,8 ). But to enjoy the full benefit of relationship with Him, we need to agree with Him about our sin. And it would be wise to follow King David’s example by praying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” ( Psalm 139:23-24 ).

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How Can Christians Believe that the Human Race Is Depraved?

A biblical conception of human depravity doesn’t imply that human nature is as evil as it can possibly be. Although we are often bad, we could be much worse. People often do good and generous things.

Rather than teaching that every aspect of our nature and personality is as bad as they can possibly be, the doctrine of depravity teaches that every part of our nature is tainted with original sin. Therefore, although we are always potentially more evil than we are in actuality, everything we touch is tinged with sin.

The Evangelical Dictionary Of Theology (Walter A. Elwell, Editor) gives this brief definition of depravity.

Positively, total depravity means that the corruption has extended to all aspects of man’s nature, to his entire being; and total depravity means that because of that corruption there is nothing man can do to merit saving favor with God.

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